Today we learned that the Jesusita fire in the Santa Barbara area was likely caused by power tools used in brush cutting around the Jesusita hiking trail. The good folks at the Santa Barbara Independent have been an excellent source of information:
The fire cause appears related to the use of power tool equipment involved in vegetation clearance. Fire investigators are requesting public assistance with identification of the person or persons engaged in vegetation clearance on Monday, May 4th, and Tuesday, May 5th, 2009. The unidentified persons are known to have been on the trail between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on both days.(Press release via SB Independent 5/10/2009)
While nobody has suggested arson of any sort at this point, the hot dry weather combined with the fact that the region has received very little rainfall made any spark dangerous. It is just that this one took off. As noted above, the authorities are looking for whomever was cutting brush with the power tools though.
The fact is that areas across the state are extremely vulnerable to fire this year.
“Every year seems to be getting worse,” said Halsey, who works for the California Chaparral Institute. “I don’t see the climate changing and people are still building. If this is any indication, it certainly seems like it is going to get a lot worse.”
Invasive, fire-prone weeds have taken over in many areas of Northern and Southern California, he said, creating kindling for fire. Combine that with a warming climate, drought and an ever-increasing population and you have what he called “a perfect storm” for fire.(SF Chronicle 5/9/09)
Every year the fires begin earlier and earlier, the droughts have been devastating, and increasing temperatures only add to the danger. Of course, the fires themselves are massive contributors to global warming as they release massive amounts of C02, some have estimated that wildfires release up to 5% of America’s greenhouse gasses. And so the cycle continues.
Whether or not the state is in a budget crisis, the fires this year are going to require whatever resources they require. Quite simply they are not optional. While the feds will provide some resources, a big fire season will still be a huge drain on our state budget. And even more importantly, it will threaten lives and the wherewithal of Californians already stretched to the brink.